In early June, I traveled with two of my new colleagues to the Library Instruction West 2016 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. I hadn’t ever been to Utah before, nor this conference, so it was a neat experience, and it was nice to be among instruction-specific librarians. Here are my notes from the sessions I attended.
Teaching, Learning, and Vulnerability in Digital Places
I had the pleasure of listening to Donna Lanclos’ keynote address. Lanclos is an anthropologist at UNC Chapel Hill. Her work for the last few years has been in studying higher education and academic libraries. Although you can find a much better summary about her talk here, her keynote centered on the idea that online is a place, and we need to work towards making this learning place welcoming to our students, and, to do that, we need to have professional empathy. We need to work for the connection in our online spaces. Although our Moodle and Blackboard course shells have spaces for discussion boards, why are students still creating Facebook groups for their classes? Why are students leaving the course management system to find humanity elsewhere online?
Rather than have people fill out surveys, Lanclos, in her work as an anthropologist, had people annotate their emotions related to different online spaces. On one end of the spectrum are places in the online world that are used like a toolbox in which one acts as visitor. On the other end of the spectrum are the online places in which one is a resident engaging and communicating in community. This was a very revealing exercise. In my notes, I made quick note about my online world. There are times and places online in which I act as visitor, but there are other places in which I am a resident. For example, when I had Twitter, I was an occasional visitor. Facebook is where I engage, and this had to do with personal comfort. I did not feel comfortable engaging with librarians on Twitter. The most vocal people are the ones who are heard, and I don’t have a style that is bold, sarcastic, or witty. I didn’t feel like I belonged.
Lanclos is asking us to carefully examine how we can make online learning be more personal and human. Vulnerability, she argues, is mostly approached from a personal level. If we do not give away some personal things, we seem unapproachable. There is utility in sharing, but we need to examine vulnerability in other ways, as well. Vulnerability can be characterized negatively and positively, as risky or risk-taking. When one is part of the power structure, being vulnerable is seen as risk-taking. When one is not part of the power structure, vulnerability is seen as risky behavior. How much humanity do we put out there until it is deemed risky? This is what our students are negotiating. We need to think about the values we are expressing in our instruction.
In academia, we are asked to be more empathetic and vulnerable with our students, but Lanclos indicates that what we really owe students is professional vulnerability—flexibility and transparency. With regard to library services, the classroom, and the university, we are constantly finding ways to make the process more seamless, but there is something in showing students messiness, the seams (we need to be seam-y). Being transparent in our teaching is an act of professional vulnerability. Dave Cormier writes about rhizomatic learning in his article “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum” (2008). This type of learning and teaching is very challenging because it is centered on being vulnerable. In this inquiry-based environment, it is okay not to know the answer and engage in the half-formed ideas. We need to model to students that experimentation and not knowing are part of the learning process.
Our students will learn to challenge themselves if we model the messy process of learning, and librarians are uniquely positioned to model process given that are expertise is focused on process versus content. For the librarian, however, challenges remain in being a seam-y teacher. How do we work with low faculty expectations and a university that may view the library as a checkbox versus a partner? How do we develop relationships in the one-shot model?
I really liked Lanclos’ overview of the work she did in having people map their emotions related to online environments. You can read more about the visitors and residents continuum here.
In which environments do you act as a visitor? Where are you a resident? What is the reason for the difference? How might this exercise be adapted in your classroom? I feel like it pairs really well with Kuhlthau’s ISP model, because there are also emotions researchers experience in the research process. How might you create an online learning environment that is safe for students to be human?
Demonstrating Dialogue: Using the ACRL Framework to Teach Scholarship as a Conversation
This active learning workshop was conducted by Sarah LeMire of Texas A&M University. Before the activity portion of the workshop, LeMire and the participants discussed the scholarship as conversation frame, addressing the challenges and opportunities and strategies in teaching this concept.
Opportunities include engaging with multiple viewpoints, recognizing privilege, student contributions as information producers, and the interconnected nature of scholarship. Some conceptual challenges in teaching this frame are that scholarship is mediated in a way conversation are not; conversation is give and take, though not all research is, and because scholarship is mediated, there are barriers to access and some voices are marginalized. Some of the practical challenges in teaching these concepts are the reliance on the binary (scholarly vs. popular), pro/con assignments, and privileging academic viewpoints. Students are used to consuming information, so having them participate as producers can be challenging with this frame.
Some strategies include recognizing the relationship between authors’ work, engaging students in roles as information creators, critically challenging privilege, focusing on how authority differs based on context, and demonstrating that there can be different viewpoints.
Although I feel that LeMire did an excellent job in having the audience participate in the activity, what I was looking for were actual activities or lessons I could adapt surrounding this particular frame. While I did learn some ideas from the group I was in, because we spent the time developing learning outcomes for this frame, we didn’t get very far in actually developing an idea for the outcome. I also didn’t get to hear much from the other participants due to time, so, for me, I didn’t get a lot out of this to share with colleagues except that it was a good example of how to do active learning.
We were divided into groups based on the populations we serve, such as lower division undergraduate students in one-shot sessions, etc. Each group was then given a series of 3×5 cards with words written on them. We had to make three learning outcomes based on the scholarship as conversation frame from these cards. After creating outcomes, one member of the group selected one of the props LeMire provided, a toy telephone. We had to develop an activity focused on one of the learning outcomes we had created based on the prop. For example, using a smartphone, we could have an activity where students could get in parts to explore a hashtag and a do a think-pair-share, or they could ask each other who they would call to learn about a topic being discussed in class. Or what might certain people in their contacts lists have to say about the topic? Who could they not reach with a phone? Another activity someone came up with was the have students work in pairs to find a social issue on Twitter and explore the different people and perspectives in the conversations. The students could then share findings with the class.
Teaching or Tyranny: Class and Course Guides
In this presentation, Nancy Noe from Auburn University took a close look at LibGuides, a tool many librarians use to develop subject, course, and class online research guides. You can download Noe’s slides here. The slides also offer articles to read on this subject. She became interested in doing more research about online guides when helping a student one day who corrected her in how to find something based on the pathway he had learned from a one-shot instruction session that used an online guide. Noe examined 500 guides from 9 institutions and found that most of the guides looked like subject guides and while useful for librarians, they weren’t utilized much by students. She also was critical of online guides because they are not a learning tool and “dehumanizes the nature of inquiry.” In a time when education is incorporating more active learning techniques and when librarianship is moving towards a more holistic view of information literacy, I can understand where she is coming from in light of critical pedagogy. The presentation also reminded me of an article by Hicks that I read last year, “LibGuides: Pedagogy to Oppress?,” in Hybrid Pedagogy.
However, there is room for directories in our landscape. Throughout the presentation, I kept thinking about the visitors and resident continuum Lanclos introduced in her keynote address at the conference. Second, simply analyzing a LibGuide does not tell you what is being done in the classroom with the guides. There could be analog activities going on in conjunction with the tools on the guide. At my own institution, some of the librarians also create online activities that are embedded into the guide, so while that shows evidence of active learning, but I can think of times at my previous job at a community college where I used a guide with paper-based activities in the classroom. Third, library instruction programs do not merely consist of guides; they are not being used a substitution for teaching.
I am not defending the standard guide as much as I am saying that everything has its place, from the subject guide that merely points out some of the subject-specific databases and websites to the class guide full of interaction and focus on process and inquiry.
I do appreciate the fact that she indicated that there didn’t seem to be much difference between subject and course guides from the guides she analyzed. Her willingness to look into a tool critically that the profession embraces can help us to be more critical of the guides we make, and it also speaks to the importance of continuing to reach out to faculty regarding instructional efforts and working with them to develop instructional materials. There is no point to make these things if instructors do not use them or recommend that students use them.
The Road Untraveled: Alternative Outreach for Instruction
In this presentation, Carrie Moran and Rachel Mulvihill of the University of Central Florida shared how the library has reached out and engaged with campus partners to reach faculty and students. You can find the presentation slides here. Traditionally, many libraries outreach to specific departments through subject specialists and liaison models. For example, there might a librarian who is the psychology librarian or there may be librarians who are responsible for reaching out to faculty in a few specific majors. UCF Libraries, instead, have sought partnerships based on specific programs, such as the graduate school, first year experience program, Honors program, online programs, international student program, transfer student program, and faculty.
The library partnered with the Center for Distributed Learning to put the library’s information literacy modules in the learning object repository and had them incorporate library tools into Canvas, the university’s learning management system (from the image on the slides, it looks like they incorporating library tools into Canva using the LibGuides CMS). They also worked with instructional designers to design a Library Canvas Course.
Rather than start new ideas from scratch, the library sought places where library expertise could contribute to what other programs were already doing. The library found ways to reach the campus community through an online video presentation with the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning, presented at New Faculty Orientations, played a role in the Summer Research Academy through the Office of Undergraduate Research, held College of Graduate Studies workshops in scholarly communication and a dissertation forum. For the Honors program, the library held an Honors in the Major workshop covering research basics (the library got a list of students with their majors prior to the workshop) and a series of thesis development workshops. They partnered with Transfer and Transition Services’ Foundations of Excellence Transfer Initiative, participating in two interdepartmental workshops, “Bagels with TTS” and “Are You on the Knight Track? Transfer Student Seminar.” To help with library myth-busting at New Student Orientations, the library invited First Year Experience Orientation leaders to go to the library for a session. Although too much time has passed for me to make sense of my notes, the library also did something with the Office of Research and Commercialization.
Moran also offered that the library can also seek out partnerships with non-academic departments, such as personal/social groups or clubs. For example, being involved with the Pride Faculty and Staff Association at UCF, United Faculty of Florida UCF chapter, and the Center for Success of Women Faculty has fostered opportunities for library outreach. Being on search committees can also foster opportunities. The library definitely needs to meet people where they are and get involved with the spaces, places, and activities other departments do on campus.
There is something I wrote here regarding librarian paper dolls and insomnia cookies. I’m a little bummed I can’t remember the details, but I can always contact the presenters. It was a fun, inspiring presentation.
Breaking it Down and Climbing Back Up: Learning Theories & Approached to Instruction
In this presentation, Erica DeFrain from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Julia Glassman and Doug Worsham from UCLA, and Nicole Pagowsky from the University of Arizona discussed using active learning, constructivism, and critical pedagogy as instructional strategies to motivate learners and make learning memorable, meaningful, and transformative. You can download the slides and the handout that went along with this presentation here.
During the first part of the presentation, the presenters had us work in pairs and think and share about a time when learning was memorable, meaningful, and transformative. I really struggled with this question, and I know that reflecting on our own positive and negative learning experiences can inform our own instruction, but I think transformative is what threw me off. Using our experiences, we made a list of characteristics. For example, what makes learning memorable, meaningful, and transformative might be that it is authentic and engaging and happens when learners and teachers are motivated and motivating.
- Active learning focuses on being memorable.
- Social constructivism focuses on being meaningful.
- Constructivism: we learn when we build knowledge with our concepts and experience.
- Social constructivism: we learn when we interact with each other to build knowledge with concepts and experience (this is why we were doing think-pair-share)
- Critical pedagogy focuses on being transformative.
- Social justice perspective that challenges status quo and how things are/came to be
- “Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom and mere opinions to understand deep meanings, root causes, social contexts, ideologies, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse.” (Shor, Empowering Education, 1992, p. 129)
Interestingly, the panelists asked who had trouble coming up with an experience from higher education that was memorable, meaningful, and transformative and prompted a discussion about barriers to this kind of learning. Barriers that our group came up with include lecture forma, lack of confidence, language/culture, research vs. teaching focus, quantitative assessment, prescription, and lack of personal interaction.
The next part of the presentation had us look at one of four case studies. We were asked to identify the learning outcome for the case study we selected, and then were asked to develop active, constructivist, and critical approaches for this learning outcome. I really struggled with this workshop. I think it was more helpful for me to hear from other people about what they would do, but, unfortunately, I didn’t write anything down. I think this might be a good in-house professional development session for instruction librarian teams to do.
Note: I’m not sure why, but I wrote down Bean’s Engaging Ideas (2011).
Mapping Landmarks in the Territory: What do Threshold Concepts Look Like to Students?
This was possibly my absolute favorite presentation and workshop of the whole conference! Margy MacMillan of Mount Royal University analyzed the transcripts of 400 student interviews from a long-term qualitative study of the student experience at Mount Royal University. The questions and initial study did not originate with the library, so the questions were not specific to research. MacMillan, independently, decided to see if anything in the interviews revealed students’ experience with information literacy. She specifically wanted to know if students were touching on anything related to the threshold concepts (now called conceptual understandings) outlined in the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. She coded all the data based on the specific concepts or concepts and also indicated students’ various stages learning of the concept, such as unaware, aware, or understood. Some students could not see any “doorways,” “where lack of awareness of a frame is a barrier to learning.” Other students “…appear to be looking through a frame, but may not have crossed a threshold, and other reflect the impact of gaining a deeper understanding of the frame, and how that changed the participant’s view of research, information, or learning.” Understanding where students may be struggling based on their perspective can help inform the language we use in instruction and in the development of activities and assignments.
After introducing her work, MacMillan also had us try out this metacognition reading exercise. We read and coded various excerpts from transcripts that she had pre-cut. She asked us each to find a partner and look over the strips together. My partner pulled up the Framework on her laptop, so we could see the concepts, practices, and dispositions. Together, we coded the strips based on the concepts we thought students were touching upon. Below are some photos from the data my partner and I coded.
During the session, I remarked what a great exercise this would be for librarians and writing faculty to do with our own student populations. At my library, we have Instruction Brown Bag meetings every so often to talk about new ideas, things we have read, or presentations we have watched. We’re actually meeting tomorrow to go over things we learned at this conference. We mostly attended different sessions, so we could get the most out of the conference program. I’m planning to share this research and idea. I am also going to a workshop on Friday where I might have time to talk to a writing lecturer and longtime online friend (I was a writing tutor for her students at my undergrad institution where she was a new instructor) about this idea. I know that in the past that the writing sections participating in the pilot with embedded information literacy had a reflective writing assignment, so I am curious if those could be looked at again and coded…
MacMillan also provided her PowerPoint slides and notes from the discussion part of the presentation and workshop. You find these documents here. For more information about the data collected through four rounds of Assessment Seminar interviews at MRU, see http://bit.ly/mruasem. Contact MacMillan at email@example.com and @margymaclibrary.
Note: It appears that someone may have introduced what they feel is a missing frame in the framework: Reading as Translation. That’s all I wrote next to the listed frames. I wish I had been more precise in my note-taking.
Lofty Conversations, Grounding Teaching: “Threshold Concepts,” “Decoding the Disciplines,” and Our Pedagogical Praxis
In this presentation, Andrea Baer of the University of West Georgia introduced threshold concepts, the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, and the Decoding the Disciplines model. She related the model to threshold concepts, and asked how we might apply this model in our teaching of the conceptual understandings found in the Framework. This presentation made me think about “Inventing the University,” in which Bartholomae (1985) speaks to the idea of demystifying academic writing. Working in groups, we discussed how we might apply the decoding model for a specific scenario. You can find Baer’s slides at the link here; make sure to check out her reference list.
Land, Meyer, and Baille (2010) write that threshold concepts are “core or foundational concepts that, once grasped by the learner, create new perspectives and ways of understanding a discipline of challenging knowledge domain.” Meyer and Land (2003) characterize these concepts as being transformative, irreversible, integrative, bounded, and troublesome. Formerly, ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education identified six threshold concepts, but due to some disagreement about whether the frames really are threshold concepts, the frames are now called conceptual understandings. These threshold concepts or conceptual ways of understanding offer a way to “…articulate…shared beliefs providing multiple ways of helping us name what we know and how we can use what we know…” (Yancey, Introduction to Naming What We Know, 2015). They provide a lens.
The six core concepts, which address areas that students can find difficult or messy to understand, include:
- Authority is Constructed and Contextual
- Information Creation as Process
- Information Has Value
- Research as Inquiry
- Scholarship as Conversation
- Searching as Strategic Exploration
Bottlenecks of learning, as noted by Anderson (1996) cited in Middendorf and Pace (2004), are “points in a course where the learning of a significant number of students in interrupted.” For example, in history, students may struggle with what is essential and nonessential information. In literature, students may struggle with the idea that they must interpret and argue based on textual evidence, rather than gut instinct.
Each discipline has its own ways of thinking. Middendorf and Pace (2004) note that many students are not necessarily taught disciplinary skills, practices, or ways of thinking, nor are given much practice. There are seven decoding steps instructors can take to help students learn these skills, practices, and ways of thinking. They include:
- Identifying cognitive and affective bottlenecks—where are students getting stuck?
- Unpacking a process—how does an expert do this task/process?
- Modeling—how can the task/process be demonstrated explicitly?
- Student practice and feedback—what opportunities can students have to engage in the task and get feedback?
- Motivation—how will students be motivated?
- Assessment—how well are students doing the task?
- Sharing results—how can the gained knowledge about learning be shared with other educators?
The last point made me think about Lanclos’ keynote with regard to professional vulnerability.
Threshold concepts are similar to bottlenecks of learning in that both address the stickiness students face when working through the lens of a particular discipline. While threshold concepts provide the conceptual understandings in a discipline, decoding provides a model for instructional planning in the discipline.
How might we apply decoding to the Framework? How can these challenging concepts be explored through modeling and activities?
- What are the bottlenecks?
- How can we unpack the process?
- How can we model it?
- What sorts of activities can we have students do and what kind of feedback might they get?
- What will be the motivation for students to learn this concepts?
- How might we assess this concept?
- How might we share results?
At this point in the presentation, Baer had us think of a discipline in which we often work and identify where students often get stuck when doing research of using sources in that context. Someone in our group mentioned that when he works with students in the social sciences who are writing literature reviews, they often get stuck in how to annotate and synthesize the information from the scholarship. This relates to the threshold concept Scholarship as Conversation. While the process had been unpacked, the process hadn’t been modelled explicitly and the students hadn’t had opportunities to practice and get feedback before turning in their literature reviews. Together, we discussed strategies for activities students could do. One of the group members had actually attended a workshop called “Bridge the Gap Between Faculty Expectation and Student Experience: Teaching Students to Annotate and Synthesize Sources” that introduced activities to help students write annotations and read and synthesize articles, so he shared those materials and activities with us. You can find the presentation slides and other information, including activities and lesson plan, for the Bridge the Gap session on this LibGuide. The accompanying source sheets, summary table, and the lesson plan are all available for download.